Journalism vs. future

The journalism world has been wrestling its future for a while. The future is looking strong so far, having slammed traditional journalism through a proverbial table a great many times. This future goes by many names: “citizen journalism,” “we media,” “participatory journalism” etc. It is embodied by technology more than method and its franchises are blogs, wikis or podcasts.

The world is obsessed with technology, and when it comes to “mainstream journalism,” this obsessions has turned to reverence at best, and fear at worst. It’s not hard to get this feeling of impending doom if you are a print or broadcast journalist spending a few hours in the Internet jungle. Futurists predict the decline of traditional journalism, news aggregators like Google News use algorithms not people to compile news, and bloggers strike from every angle.

And that’s probably an understatement. I have bought into the future myself — I even penned (well, typed is more accurate) an essay titled “The Internet, the ripper of the traditional press” (RO) for a Romanian weekly. It surprised me to see the piece picked up by Romanian bloggers (RO) who complimented me on my vision for the future — one in which journalism will mostly be produced online.

What I wasn’t saying is that blogs will produce the journalism of the future.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this issue. There are wiser men than me looking at the impact of technology on the future of the media as we know it (check Mark Glaser‘s MediaShift).

What I will say is along the lines of an e-mail I sent Elle today about a post on Talking Points Memo, a successful blog that stands above the crowd because of its occasional original reporting (TPM is not the only blog to do original work).

The post was arguing for a need to have outlets such as blogs perform a check on the mainstream press — even if this check turns into full-blown attacks, which sometimes can go overboard. Why? Because the media is too quick to construct a false balance in the news for fear of upsetting the American political right.

Here’s what Joshua Marshal had to say: “Indeed, when you actually watch — from the inside — how mainstream newsrooms work, it is really not too much to say that they operate on two guiding principles: reporting the facts and avoiding impressions of ‘liberal bias’. “

I don’t believe this to be true, and here are a few reasons why:

1. I agree with Marshall that keeping an eye on the press is good (and boy are there eyes on the press). But we need to remember that those people in the newsrooms work hard to get that information people in cyber space bitch about. There are thousands of newsrooms in the United States and I’ve seen plenty recently to argue that journalists believe in their mission and really try to do the best they can every day.

People should be aware of the fact that information is not always readily available and although there are plenty of slip-ups and mistakes, the majority of the information out there comes from these imperfect creatures staffing “mainstream media.” These people REPORT — some do it better, some do it worse. But they are the ones who put up the most bricks in creating the picture of the world.

2. I have seen enough reporters at work to say I don’t believe the shallowness comes from a fear of the political right. There are plenty of other reasons — the social disconnect, the “just j-school” or “only ivy-league” hiring mentality, the lack of expertise and so on (I’ve had my moments of depression, too). Saying it’s the fear of the right that makes journalism bad is overlooking the problems that plague the craft from the inside.

3. Yes, there is fake balance created at times and it’s unfortunate. But again, I would argue that comes from more from a failure of living up to journalistic standards than fear of political retribution. Every blogger should spend a day in the newsroom answering calls from readers. They will learn first-hand what it’s like to be accused of bias — gender, political, racial, take your pick. It’s not easy trying to work through bias; and if you are to have a press that fosters democratic dialogue, carrying the flag of one ideology over another won’t help.

I suspect that the majority of newsrooms in this country have a majority of staff with liberal-leanings. And no, that doesn’t mean that fake balance for fear of being labeled as liberal is the answer. Neither is championing the overwhelming ideology in the newsrooms. I believe we need media who can make sense of the noise, which the future is largely responsible for creating (that’s a fact, not necessarily a wrong or a right).

And despite its flaws, that sense-maker could be the traditional media (I hope it will — it still tells great stories). That doesn’t mean it has to do it off-line though. The future needs to be embraced, all while keeping the principles of the craft alive: truth, verification, independence.

One Response to “Journalism vs. future”

  1. […] Pe acelasi subiect: – Internetul, groparul presei traditionale (RO, din Dilema Veche) – Journalism vs. future (EN) – Let’s stop pretending journalism is a meritocracy (EN, Poynter) […]

Leave a Reply